Clunies, Sandra Maclean. A Family Affair: How to Plan and Direct the Best Family Reunion Ever.

Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 2003. 227p., softcover. Index, illus. $19.99. ISBN 1-4016-0020-4.

Family reunions are not, for many of us, as basic a part of family research as they might be, and books on the subject usually reflect that. If most of your relatives still live within a day’s drive, you probably see them regularly and an annual picnic is almost a routine event, dedicated to introducing new offspring and remembering the recently deceased. If your family is scattered all over the country, as is true of probably a majority of the American population these days, a reunion becomes a special event with a significant outlay in time and money for both planners and attendees, but the activities are still largely the same. But Sandy Clunies, a Certified Genealogist and frequent speaker at the national level, is a very experienced family researcher and past winner of the NGS Family History Writing Contest, so her interest here is primarily in the role of genealogy at the family reunion. How could any attentive researcher pass up the chance to graze among all those memories and experiences brought together for a few days in one place?

Putting on a reunion can be an overwhelming task, but (to quote the author’s grandmother) you can eat an elephant if you cut it into bite-sized pieces. “What kind of show should it be?” she asks. Do you need a theme? Is there to be a central event, like a milestone anniversary or the dedication of a DAR grave marker? Will it be potluck at a state park? A gathering at the ancestral family farm? Or a Caribbean cruise? The most important rule, though is Plan Ahead. At least a year — preferably two if it’s to be a big event. The second rule is Take a Businesslike Approach. This includes record-keeping, not only to properly account for finances but to provide information for future reunions. (Detailed attendance records from family gatherings held a century ago have become valuable resources in their own right.) The Internet, naturally, is a great help in locating those whom you want to invite, especially if you’ve been out of touch for a few years, and the author gives detailed advice (plus encouraging anecdotes) on the use of search engines and message boards for this purpose. (This section of the book, inevitably, will be the first to slowly slide out of date.) You will also want to advertise your reunion online in order to alert those individuals you weren’t able to locate. Many suggestions of an historical and genealogical nature are provided for activities (house and cemetery tours, living history demonstrations), and for showcasing the family’s history (enlargements of photos collected in advance, displays of inherited artifacts). And, of course, a series of oral history sessions is an opportunity not to be missed, with memories triggered by old photos and conversations with other descendants. To preserve all you’ve been able to learn, a post-reunion book (with sales solicited during the event) will not only provide a permanent record, it will help establish a tradition of future reunions and encourage wider attendance. A family website can present new information acquired, woven into what was already known, and can also encourage further research — and advance planning for the next get-together. Even though I’m not a big reunion-attender, this is easily the best book I’ve seen on the subject.

Published in: on 2 May 2010 at 8:24 am  Leave a Comment  

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